REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 11, 2000 — Walking what is perhaps one of the finest lines in the high tech industry, Kevin Browne works at Microsoft, where he lives and breathes the Macintosh. Browne, who has worked for Microsoft for 10 years, was named head of Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) in late 1999. Today at the CompUSA store in San Francisco, Microsoft announced the nationwide availability of Office 2001 for Mac. From the packaging — a reusable CD sleeve and a translucent, silvery plastic case instead of cardboard, to the graphics enhancements — the ability to make photographs glow, for example — Office 2001 for Mac, according to Browne, will take users to a whole new level of simplified computing.
On the eve of the announcement of its nationwide availability, Browne took time with PressPass to discuss the finer points of the new suite, the history and the future of the relationship between Microsoft and Apple, and the importance of listening to customers.
PressPass: When did Microsoft form its Macintosh Business Unit?
Browne: We started the MacBU around the beginning of 1997. For years and years, we’d been developing applications for Windows in tandem with applications for the Mac, all in one big team. What we found over time was that the Windows and Mac platforms were diverging, and we needed to focus on needs that were unique to each. For instance, the Mac is not as heavily used in corporate computing. You don’t find a lot of Mac users talking about knowledge management, but it’s all the rage for people who use Windows. The Mac is used for its excellent graphics and design capabilities, and is growing very popular with consumers. So it made sense for Microsoft to have a business unit that focused on needs unique to the Mac user.
PressPass: Are you pleased with how things have progressed for the MacBU since 1997?
Browne: Absolutely. We’ve really gone out and done special things that have been recognized. We’ve taken care to develop the most Mac-like products we can. We’ve won the Best-of-Show award at Macworld Expo for five shows in a row! I’m incredibly proud of our unit.
PressPass: You’re announcing Office 2001 for Mac at CompUSA in San Francisco. What drove the development of Office 2001 for Mac?
Browne: What drove the development is all the advances that have been made over the past few years. When we released Office 98 in March of 1998, it was after two or three years of development, so it’s a product that began development in 1996. Since then, we’ve witnessed the wild growth of the Internet. Email is now ubiquitous. Almost every home computer goes out the door with a color printer, a scanner, digital cameras, all sorts of new devices and technologies. The world has changed completely, so we’ve decided to change along with it. Office 2001 for Mac was developed to help people communicate and have access to everything the Internet offers.
PressPass: What are some of your favorite features in Office 2001 for Mac?
Browne: Office 2001 for Mac includes the standard applications — Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Now we’ve added a fourth — Entourage. Entourage combines powerful yet simple email with all the personal information management tools you need — a calendar, an address book, task lists, notes. It ties these modules together very tightly, and also ties in with all the other applications in the suite. With Entourage, you can flag any item you create — Word files, a list in Excel — for follow-up. You can send yourself reminders for phone calls, flag email messages, and leave reminders for yourself in Word documents. Entourage can communicate with all the different applications in Office 2001 for Mac, which makes it a great communications tool, which was our goal.
PressPass: How does Entourage differ from Microsoft Outlook?
Browne: They sound similar — they have the same fundamental components. The main difference is that Outlook has the goal of making not only the individual more productive, but the organization more productive as well. Outlook is very tightly integrated with the server, which makes it a great tool for doing things at an organizational level. Entourage is laser-focused on making the individual more productive. We looked at our market and saw people working on a fairly individual level — that’s our customer — so we didn’t focus on things like group calendaring. We were extremely focused on the individual when we developed Entourage.
PressPass: What are some of the other features geared specifically to individual users?
Browne: Simplicity was our main idea. We had to make the overall experience simpler so that people can take advantage of the richness available with today’s technology. For instance, it’s really easy for someone to take a picture and hook the digital camera up to the Mac and send the photo out as a file. We’ve now simplified the overall experience to make it easier to use those pictures in Word. We’ve added new photo editing tools. You can bring a picture in from your camera and fix “red eye” or scratches. You can crop it easily. We have about 50 picture effects, which let you do things like make a photo look like a sketch, or add glowing edges to your photos.
PressPass: Are most of the features found on Office 2001 for Mac the same as those on an Office suite for Windows?
Browne: It’s been important to us to develop features that are found first on the Mac. In fact, we previewed Office 2001 for Mac at the Macworld Expo in New York this July. In six minutes, we demonstrated nine features in front of 7,000 people. At one point I led them in cheering,
“Only on the Mac! Only on the Mac! Only on the Mac!”
Our booth was packed. We had two theatres to show applications, and every seat was taken. The benefit of having two teams is that we examine how our customers use technology from two very different perspectives. Windows users and Mac users tend to have different priorities, and our teams get together to share ideas and designs and codes so that in the future everyone will benefit. One example is the ability to save documents in HTML. The Windows team did a lot of great work and there was terrific fidelity. We were able to adapt it to our code base, so Mac users got the benefits of the Windows team. Our most important priority is to maintain compatibility with Office 2000 for Windows, which necessitates a very tight working relationship.
PressPass: Are previous versions of Office for Mac compatible with Office 2001 for Mac?
Browne: Office 2001 for Mac uses the same file format as Office 98 for Mac, so it’s completely compatible. It’s also completely compatible with Office 97 for Windows and Office 2000 for Windows. They all use the same format to save files. We’ve taken the compatibility issue a little further by asking what makes Mac and Windows seem incompatible even if they aren’t. File extensions, for example. It used to be that extensions didn’t show up on Word files that were emailed from a Mac user to a Windows user, because it was a hidden code that Windows couldn’t read. Now email will automatically recognize it and let the user know that it’s a Word document. Compatibility, in fact, is our number one priority. Half the hours spent developing Office 2001 for Mac were spent on compatibility — that’s how important it is.
PressPass: What are some of the other unique things you can do on Office 2001 for Mac?
Browne: The flagging capability in Entourage is definitely one of them. Also, you can save a PowerPoint presentation as a movie file, which means that anyone with an Apple QuickTime Player can use it. That lets you deliver your message with more impact than ever. We found in Excel that the number one thing people do is keep simple lists — things like address books, a checkbook registry, inventories, etc. We put a set of features in called List Manager. It puts a nice frame around the list and adds tools to help filter, sort and add. It’s intelligence applied to the task of making sure that your list is managed properly.
PressPass: How does the MacBU keep up to speed on what Mac users need?
Browne: We listen to what our customers say. We have some formal means of doing that and some that aren’t as formal. We have a customer panel of about 1,000 Mac users, 500 of whom use Office and 500 who don’t. Both viewpoints are incredibly important to us. We regularly do focus groups to explore topics in greater detail, such as what features users use the most, and how frequently, or what issues they’d worry about if they switched email programs. We go out on site visits, which helps us get a good picture of how the Mac and our software work together. We also host newsgroups where customers ask questions and other customers answer, and a great discussion gets underway. When people say negative things, other customers often explain how to use the application or feature correctly. It’s incredibly gratifying to see fans of Microsoft in the Macintosh space.
PressPass: How would you describe the relationship between Microsoft and Apple?
Browne: It’s the best it’s ever been. Back in 1996, it was said that people from Microsoft and Apple couldn’t talk to one another without having lawyers in the room. Now we all talk directly to answer questions and offer each other suggestions. We’ve all internalized the need to work with Apple, and I’m very pleased with where we are.
There are 10 million users who rely on the Mac. Our collaboration is about customers. It’s also due in no small part to Steve Jobs’ return to Apple. Bill Gates and he are acquaintances from way back, and Bill Gates has a soft spot in his heart for the Mac.
PressPass: What’s on the horizon for Mac users? What can Mac users expect from Microsoft in the future?
Browne: Well, Apple is developing a new operating system — MacOS X — which they plan to release next year. Our next project is to get our products onto that platform. Internet Explorer will be the default browser on that system. We’ve been working on that for a while, and it looks great. Other than that, we’ll continue working together to service the needs of our customers.